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65c126870d60c9001e68ec44 Nemra Panel 1920 Final

Becoming a Best-in-Class Rep: Do’s and Don’ts from Distributors

Feb. 5, 2024
A panel discussion at NEMRA 2024 in Las Vegas offered reps some tips on how to become a more integral link to their marketing for manufacturers and distributors. 

One key takeaway from NEMRA 2024’s Distributor Panel Discussion is that the quality of local relationships  reps establish with end users in local markets will continue to define the value they offer electrical distributors.

 Executives from four of the nation’s largest electrical distributors and two marketing groups engaged in a lively discussion moderated by Dr. Jeffrey Magee that covered point-of-sale data, creating demand,  the impact of M&As, managing promotions and the importance of understanding each branch location or profit center’s unique business model.

 The panelists were: Steven Guidry, senior VP, Supplier Relations, Affiliated Distributors (AD); Steve Ruane, VP and Member Services, IMARK; Bob Kalkowski, Senior VP, Strategic Vendor Relations, Sonepar; Scott Dowell, senior VP and general manager, WESCO; Brad Selby, VP and Midwest Region Manager; and Andy Ciccone, district VP, Graybar.

NEMRA agents have focused on creating demand for the lines they carry for decades, but panelists said that responsibility will evolve dramatically in coming years as the industry moves toward more widespread use of POS data and how it’s tracked and used for compensation.

Several of the panelists also agreed that reps can play a key role in managing product promotions in the market.  While it’s always exciting to launch a new promotion, once the initial hoopla and excitement fades, they said distributors need reps to help to manage promotions by redirecting or refining  their sales efforts to focus on the customers or products based on the feedback they receive from the front line.

M&As were another key point of discussion.  The current wave of distributor acquisitions is changing local market dynamics and shows no sign of stopping, according to the panelists. Reps can best adjust to M&As by 

maintaining their focus on building brands.  Said IMARK’s Ruane, “Build brand equity within customers.  Distributors are looking for manufacturers with solid brand preference. Look for customers predisposed to the lines you carry.”

Sonepar’s Kalkowski said M&As are forcing relationships to get closer and more strategic. “Acquisitions are part of of our lifeblood, but the local market wins,” he said.

“Our operating companies run our business.”

 IMARK’s Ruane surveyed 20 IMARK distributors about the traits common with best-in-class distributors. One of the things that came up frequently was the need for reps to build and maintain business relationships at all levels of a distributorship — including management, outside sales, inside sales, purchasing, warehouse and the counter.

WESCO’s Dowell and CED’s Selby agreed. “Understand our business model,” said Selby. “Someone who calls a CED profit center a branch does not understand our business model.” 

WESCO’s Dowell said reps need to understand that some local branches operate differently and that they can help fill in any gaps that may exist with the services they provide.

Look for continuing coverage of this NEMRA Panel Discussion at and

About the Author

Jim Lucy | Editor-in-Chief

Jim Lucy, Editor-in-Chief, Electrical Wholesaling magazine and Electrical Marketing newsletter.

Over the past 40-plus years, hundreds of Jim’s articles have been published in Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing newsletter on topics such as the impact of new competitors on the electrical market’s channels of distribution, energy-efficient lighting and renewables, and local market economics. In addition to his published work, Jim regularly gives presentations on these topics to C-suite executives, industry groups and investment analysts.

He recently launched a new subscription-based data product for Electrical Marketing that offers electrical sales potential estimates and related market data for more than 300 metropolitan areas, and in 1999 he published his first book, “The Electrical Marketer’s Survival Guide” for electrical industry executives looking for an overview of key market trends.

While managing Electrical Wholesaling’s editorial operations, Jim and the publication’s staff won several Jesse H. Neal awards for editorial excellence, the highest honor in the business press, and numerous national and regional awards from the American Society of Business Press Editors. He has a master’s degree in Communications and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Glassboro State College, Glassboro, N.J. (now Rowan University).

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